For Mukesh Sharma, Managing Director Northern Ireland, World Travel Centre, Friday 13th May 2016 was a good day – he formally received his MBE awarded to him on 31st December last in Queen Elizabeth’s New Year’s Honours list for “services to the travel and tourism industry in Northern Ireland”.
Mukesh, who has also been Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Belfast since March 2015, established Thriftway Travel in 1982. The agency merged with McNeill Rigby Travel in 2009 to form the McNeill & Thriftway Travel Group, which in 2011 acquired Selective Travel Management, one of Northern Ireland’s top corporate travel agencies. Then in late 2012 the group became the Northern Ireland subsidiary of Dublin-based World Travel Centre.
With four brand names and several premises around Belfast, a rationalisation was in order, and this has now been completed. Mukesh told Irish Travel Trade News: “We now operate with just two brands – World Travel Centre is the retail travel brand, Selective Travel Management the corporate travel brand, and the others have been eliminated. In addition, WTC in Dublin has been using the Selective Travel Management brand since earlier this year.
“We have also centralised everyone in our premises at Murray’s Exchange, 1 Linfield Road, Belfast BT12 5DR. Our staff numbers are currently in the high 90s, compared with around 70 this time last year and 50 in 2014, and I expect them to exceed 100 by this time next year.
“Overall, the travel business in Northern Ireland has been relatively flat, with agencies reducing in number and becoming even more specialist. However, we have bucked the trend and our business has seen strong growth, particularly leisure business, and we are picking up a lot of business in England and Scotland. In particular, we are gaining a lot of three-to-five-year contracts with Government departments and universities.”